Teaching Students

I’ve been invited to speak to English class students in a few days and am looking forward to it! I wrote out a whole speech for the thirty minute presentation and tried to make it interactive and interesting. We’ll be talking about writing, publishing, and selling books. I’m including the speech here below for anyone who wants some ideas for speaking to students about book-writing. I hope I can stick to the script! I’ll be practicing a lot the next few days.

Hello. I have a box in front of me.  I need a volunteer to open this box.

(Pick volunteer )

Now please, open the box.  What is inside the box?

Books.  Books are inside the box.  Ordinary looking books, nothing extremely fancy about them, right?  These are some great books though with really fantastic stories meant to inspire and educate you and to transcend you to other times and places.  They will make you laugh.  They will make you cry.  They will teach you new things. 

That is the power of books.  They can influence art.  They can influence music and movies.  There’s so much that one little book can do. 

Now let’s start at the top of the stack of books.  Each one of these books was written by an author that wanted to contribute their thoughts to the world.  Each one of these books is also a different type of genre.  What is a genre?  Well, it means a certain style of book or category.  And thinking about your genre or niche, thinking about what you know about the world and what you can contribute to the world of books……….that is one of the first steps for an author. 

So let’s go through the books in the box real quick.  I want you to hold up each book to the class and let them guess the type of genre that book is and I will write it down on the board here.  There are, in fact, many different types of book genres. 

(Go through books.  When student volunteer is done, let him or her pick out a book to keep from the stack.)

Ok, so if you want to become an author, we have already established that you need to figure out what you are good at, what you have knowledge of, and what you can write about.  But what if you are a specialist on something really remote like say bugs?  What if you know everything there is to know about the bug world and you write a fabulous detailed and precise book about bugs?  Your next question to yourself should be……will that book sell?  Will you make any money or return on your investment if you write and publish that book? 

Your next step as an author should be to analyze the current book market.  Do some research.  For instance, what are the top 5 sellers now in the self-publishing book market?  You can look that up online and the answers are:

(Let students guess the top 5 sellers)

  1.  Romance novels
  2. Science Fiction novels
  3. Fantasy novels
  4. Mystery, Thriller, and Crime novels
  5. Nonfiction novels  (Self-help or Business, etc.)

Ok, so with that in mind…….what type of book should the bug enthusiast write to get the most sells?  Perhaps a love story between two bugs?  A story like this one, maybe?

(Hold up the DVD for A Bug’s Life) 

So, I recently wrote a book that falls into one of these categories here listed above.  Based on the cover design of Searching for Fire, which genre of book would you guess that it is? 

(Let students guess.)

The answer is Fantasy Fiction.   That is number 3 on the list.

Now, I’ve got an interesting question. 

In the year 2013, according to BookScan.com, how many millions of hardcover and paperback fiction copies of books were sold in the United States alone?

(Give students time to write down their guesses.)

The answer is 256 million copies of books in one year in the United States alone.

(Figure out which student came closest to the answer and applaud them) 

Now, comes the hard part……..

What is the average number of copies of a book that an author sells?  What would you guess?

(Ask a few students what they would guess.)

According to Publisher’s Weekly, an average author only sells 250 copies of their book in their first year and around 2,000 to 3,000 copies of the book in their lifetime! 

So…….what does that mean?

First, if we do the math and take 256 million copies of books divided by 250 copies of books, we realize that the current global book market is massive! 

(Write out equation on the whiteboard)

That places the number of original editions of books on the market at around 1.2 million books and that is just for one year!!!  What about all the other original edition books published prior to 2019??? 

According to Google, there are roughly over 130 million original books in the world today.  That is A LOT of books!!

The second thing, we learn from these statistics is that authors like Stephen King and JK Rowling are an amazing and unique phenomenon.  They are not the norm.  They are super successful but they had to write many, many books before they became that way. 

Ok, so why am I telling you all of this? 

Because I want you to understand that writing is a hard challenge and very few people are bestsellers.  If you want to become a writer or author, it will take hard work and dedication but more than that……you just gotta write for the sake of the storytelling itself rather than money.  You gotta love writing for writing in and of itself.  Yes, the money is very important but the reality from these statistics is that you might probably only sell 250 copies in your first year and maybe 2,000 to 3,000 copies in your lifetime.  So that means, the average author makes maybe $2,500 their first year and maybe $20,000 on a book in their lifetime. 

Writing and Publishing books is Big Business though.  And if you decide to become a writer, you need to look at it from a business standpoint and view yourself as this……..an entrepreneur.  What is an entrepreneur?  According to Merriam-Webster, an entrepreneur is a person who organizes and operates a business, taking on greater than normal financial risks in order to do so. 

(Pick up candy bars for this part to show to the audience.)

So say you are an author, an entrepreneur……..you write a book you want to sell to the world, this book “this Whatjamacallit” that you have…..perhaps it is a sci-fi fiction book, perhaps you wrote about the “Milky Way” or maybe it’s a sports history book and you wrote about “Baby Ruth”………well, as an entrepreneur you take on financial risk to publish this book (perhaps you pay for editing services or custom design of the cover, etc.) and then you put it on the market and sell it.  If you sell say, “1,000 Grand” copies well then you hit “Payday”  but say you don’t sell any at all, you might get “Snickers” from friends and family and colleagues.  But that is the risk, you are willing to take because you are now officially an entrepreneur.  An author.

(Open bag of small Milky Way candy bars to pass around the classroom.)

And the book market is what is called a “low margin market.”  Meaning that for most people, it does minimally well but for the right folks, it could hit big time jackpot.  Kinda like going to a casino or winning the lottery.  JK Rowling basically hit the lottery for writing books because she’s really a great writer.   

So we’ve determined that you maybe have your genre and you’ve realistically studied the book market and know the risks and possible downfalls as well as positive outcomes associated, the rest of developing a book can be divided into three parts:

  1.  Writing the book
  2. Publishing the book
  3. Selling the book

Let’s talk about writing.  Nowadays, there are lots of tools you can use to help you write better.  There’s Grammerly to help you with spelling and grammar.  There’s also Scribner which is an app to help you keep track of your writings.

I wanted to talk to you about a specific theory that helped me write Searching for Fire.  It is called the hero’s journey and was developed by a mythologist named Joseph Campbell.  In 1949 he wrote The Hero has a Thousand Faces and in this book, he said that there is a 12-step pattern to developing an action adventure quest story. 

Action adventure quest stories are featured in many of our contemporary movies.  Have you ever seen the movie The Matrix? What about Lord of the Rings?  Or Star Wars?  What about the movie Finding Nemo?  Yep, Finding Nemo also uses the 12 step pattern and I will show you how in this handout I created for you today. 

(Pass out handout to the class.)

So I wanted to write Searching for Fire and I wanted it to be a hero’s journey.  Next, I had to pick a location and setting.  I chose Northwest New Mexico and Southwest Colorado because I traveled to Mesa Verde and did an archaeology dig there once and knew it would be a fantastic location in North America to set a story in. 

What type of characters did I want this to be about?  This was another question I had to answer.  I chose to make the story about Native Americans in a hidden cliff village and they journey into the Old West of the 1800s as well.  Because this was a North American story, I wanted it to be about ordinary people who overcome difficult challenges through grit and determination just like the ideas we uphold here of an American dream.  I noticed as a mother that a lot of the shows my kids watched growing up were about lords and ladies, knights, and kings and queens which is interesting but I wanted the heroes to be just like you or me. 

So how did I start writing?  I already had a two page short story.  My first step after that was to prepare an outline that covered all the action in the book from beginning to end.  My outline took a week to create and it included the 12 step pattern of a hero’s journey.  I started first on a prologue that I hoped would hook the audience in and relay some very important background information.  Then I started working chapter by chapter by chapter until the book was completed.  To be honest, I did skip one chapter though and came back to it at the end.  Can anyone guess who that chapter was about?

(Ask audiences for their guesses.)

Yes, it was about the super villain.  He was the hardest person in the book to write about. Is it possible to have a favorite villain?  Yes, I think so.  What about you?  Who would you consider to be an interesting villain? 

(Ask audience for their responses)

Can anyone tell me what are the five elements to a good story?  Think about these 5 elements as you are writing.

  • A great protagonist that readers identify with
  • An antagonist that thwarts the plans of the protagonist and is an interesting character
  • An inciting action that pits the two against each other
  • Conflict – this can be internal or external
  • Resolution – the climax where we see who wins the conflict

The actual work of writing Searching for Fire took me 6 weeks at 6 hours a day but I also spent 8 hours each day at work at the factory carefully thinking over the sequence of events.  I would work out the ideas in my head for hours long before I came home each night to write them.  This meditation time is also really crucial to developing better twists and turns and maybe fight scenes. 

A good size book for your first novel could be about 100 pages written in MS Word.  The publishing company will also need to format the book and put in extra pages and different fonts and illustrations.  By the time the publishing company was done with the formatting, my 100 page work turned into about 140 pages. 

When you finish writing, you will feel great!  Truly great as if you just created something truly wonderful.  But don’t let that cloud your judgment.  You need to give the manuscript to a confidante, a close friend or two, that would be willing to read your work and edit it.  Drew was the first person to read Searching for Fire.  He was a big help to me.  The other person that helped me a lot was my sister, Jerri.  She has worked at libraries for years and had many great ideas for how to improve the manuscript.  After that was done and the revisions were made, I knew I was ready to submit the work to others.

I chose to go with a company called Archway Publishing because they are closely affiliated with Simon and Schuster and also because they were affordable for me.  When publishing there are three routes an author can take:

  1.  Traditional Publishers & Book Agents – This is the best route but the hardest to attain for a first time writer.
  2. Smaller Presses or Pay-to-print Presses – Some of these publishers require you to pay them a fee to help you publish your work.  If you are new to writing, you might consider this carefully.  You can get your book into stores but only if you have great professional reviews from Clarion, BlueInk, Kirkus, The Library Journal, The Midwest Book Review, etc. 
  3. Self-publish – Can anyone tell me the name of the one company that has revolutionized the book market in the past few decades?  I’ll give you a hint……the company starts with the letter A. 

(Wait for responses.)

Yes, the answer is Amazon.  Nowadays many many authors choose to self-publish and why not?  You keep royalties for your sales.  But the downside to this is that you must contract out work that publishing companies would do for you and when you self-publish, you do all the marketing yourself.  Also self-published works sometimes don’t get a lot of online traffic or get sold in bookstores.

I went with the second option.  I submitted the manuscript to Archway and they approved it for print.  Then I went through about a dozen editing revisions with Archway, many of which I worked on first-hand.  There was an editor that did line editing which is setting the book to Chicago Style grammar and spelling.  After the edit process, then the book moved to cover design.  The publishing company had a huge database of images to use for the book.  I picked an image with the help of Ella and Drew.  Then the cover designers created the cover and sent it to me for revisions.  From cover design, we moved then to production.  The production agents then prepared the interior formatting of the book and they created things like the dedication page and title page.  I approved what they sent and then they got it ready for print into paperback books and also to setup on Amazon live in paperback and Kindle eBook format.  In the future, I’d really like to get the book into the audiobooks market as well. 

So that’s publishing, now came the hardest part of all……….selling the book!  I though the hardest part was writing……no, no, no…….the hardest part is convincing other people to take a look at the book.  This part is called book marketing.  Book marketing should be viewed as a long term irrigation process rather than a thunderstorm at the beginning of the release.  You have to plan things out longterm and plan to do something new each month to promote the book.  The first month, I had a book launch party at the Pittsburg Artwalk.  In September, I had a Local Author Night at the Root Coffeehouse.  In October, I have planned an author night at the Pittsburg Public Library and a book signing at the PSU bookstore, and a Writers’ Faire.  In November, I plan to go to other places. 

Another part of book marketing is social media:  blogging, a book website, vlogging, a Facebook page, Instagram posts, email newsletters. 

Newspaper attention also helps to get the word out.  Thus far, for Searching for Fire…..I have contacted the Pittsburg Morning Sun, The Tulsa World, The Joplin Globe, The Parsons Sun, The Fort Scott Herald Tribune, and the Lawrence Journal World.  Other things to consider are book clubs, professional magazines, professional review journals, and especially book contests and book awards. 

So, finally, that is all I know about writing my first book.  I still have much to learn.  But these are the pros and the cons, the ins and the outs.  Now we have time for questions and answers.  Does anyone have any questions?

The Onset of October

Here’s a poem for October – the month of cooler Autumn breezes, falling leaves, football tailgates, candy corn, caramel apples, and pumpkin spice latte. There are lots of wonderful imagery surrounding October such as the delight of children on marvelous trick or treat nights.

And here now, is the poem. Happy October y’all!

A Foreboding Place

Near the old barn, unseen coyotes howl eerily together at the full moon.

Skeletons rise slowly from the cold dirt behind broken tombstones in the old country graveyard down the road.

They dance, ivory bones rattling and clacking.

A green lantern orb shines down the beaten path across the ridge and disappears abruptly into the hollow of darkness surrounding the low water bridge.

Bats, hanging upside down from a cave’s entrance, watch witches that swiftly ascend and descend across the midnight sky. 

A night hag’s cackle sounds in the distance.

A black cat crosses your path, silently shrouded in night. 

Yellow gleams from her half-slit eyes.

A screech owl responds in the wind. 

Stirring, he sits aloft a hidden branch of the rugged oak tree nestled in the shadow of the solitary weathered house. 

It is purported to be haunted, or so the locals say.

This place is ominous even to the wearily aged man standing behind the glass of the second story window overlooking the quiet gravel road. 

Moonbeams pierce through the chest and abdomen of the man revealing his ghostly presence.

He waits for Hallow’s Eve, for the night he’ll be released.

While down the road from the neighbor’s porch, a jack-o-lantern pumpkin grins wickedly.

His candle flickers in the Autumn breeze. 

Authors’ Night at Pittsburg Public Library

The Pittsburg Public Library in Pittsburg, Kansas is hosting an Authors’ Night on October 9th from 6:00 to 8:00 pm. I plan to have a table there for the book Searching for Fire, a new young adult fantasy fiction novel. Please share this with others who may be interested in this event! Really looking forward to it! Thanks.

Joplin Writers’ Faire

The Joplin Writers’ Faire will be held at the public library in Joplin, Missouri at the end of October. There will be many writers in attendance from the 4 states area and lots of fun activities. I plan to be there at a booth for the book Searching for Fire. Please share this information with others who may be interested in attending this fun event! Thanks.

Volga German Recipes

Oktoberfest is fast approaching and is celebrated as well in western Kansas where many of my mother’s relatives live. If you are driving towards Denver, Colorado, stop in at Hays and try the Volga German brewery there called Gella’s. It is a neat place. A lot of folks from around Hays, Kansas come from Volga German roots.  The Volga Germans were actually Russian immigrants.  They got their name from settling in Russia during the Reign of Catherine the Great. They were of German descent but lived near the Volga river.  In the late 1800’s, they moved in masse to America and settled mostly in the plains of the Midwest.  Some Volga Germans that remained in Russia were later persecuted and sent to Siberian work camps in the early 1900s.

My own vocabulary today is peppered with some Volga German words.  If someone sneezes near me, my automatic reaction is to say like my Grandfather used to for us when we were little, “Gesundheit!”  It was a Volga German form of saying, “Good health to you!” instead of the usual “Bless you.” My grandfather also had a tradition of giving everyone a dollar on New Year’s Eve. He said a person should always start off the New Year right with at least a dollar in their pocket.

Last night, I made for my family a Volga German recipe for ham, green bean, and dumpling soup along with my Mom’s peanut butter pie recipe which comes from Hays.   Here are three recipes you can try for a hearty Volga German meal:

Ham, Green Bean & Dumpling Soup

4 cups fresh green beans

1 finely diced potato

1 cup chopped onion

3 quarts water

2 cups diced ham

1 can chicken or beef broth

salt and pepper to taste

1/4 cup butter or margarine

1/2 cup sweet cream

Dumplings mixture:

1 cup flour

2 eggs

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

Cook green beans, ham, and potatoes in water until tender.  Add salt, pepper, and broth.  Saute onions in butter in small saucepan and set aside.  Spoon out dumplings about the size of a dime by dipping the spoon into the hot soup and then the batter.  When dumplings raise to the top of the soup, reduce the heat.  Add the onions, butter, and cream.

Another Volga German favorite is bierocks which are similar to hot pockets.  They consist mostly of hamburger, cheese and cabbage rolled up in a sweet bread that you dip in ketchup and mustard.  Here also is that Volga German recipe:


4 and 1/2 cups flour

1/2 cup sugar

1 tsp salt

2 packages dry yeast

3/4 cup milk

1/2 cup water

1/2 cup shortening

2 eggs

Measure 1 and 3/4 cup flour into a large mixing bowl.  Stir in sugar, salt, and yeast.  In a separate bowl, heat milk, water, and shortening until warm.  Pour into flour mixture.  Add eggs and beat with electric mixer at low speed for three and 1/2 minutes.  Then add remaining flour.  Cover dough in the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel.  Let set for 20 minutes, then roll the dough out.


1 lb ground beef

1 onion chopped

2 cups chopped cabbage

cheese (either American cheese slices or shredded cheese of your choice)

4 tablespoons butter

1 teaspoon salt

1/2 teaspoon pepper

Brown the beef and onion.  Wilt the cabbage in butter and add to beef with salt and pepper to taste.

To create a bierock, section out a square of the rolled out dough.  Put 3 spoonfuls of meat/cabbage mixture in the center of the square with some cheese on top.  Bring the corners to the center and pinch the dough edges together.  Place smooth side of the bierock on a greased baking sheet (or parchment paper).  Using a brush, coat the top of the bierock with melted butter and bake at 350 degrees for 20-25 minutes or until golden brown.

This recipe is similar to a pie served at the Pheasant Run restaurant in Hays which is frequented by hunters during pheasant season out in western Kansas.

Peanut Butter Pie

1 baked pie shell

1/2 cup chunky peanut butter

3/4 cup powdered sugar

1 package vanilla pudding mix

1 package Dream Whip

Bake and cool the pie crust.  Make a filling by crumbling together 1/2 cup peanut butter and the powdered sugar.   Put most of this at the bottom of the cooled pie crust.  Reserve some to garnish the top of the pie.  Make the package of vanilla pudding according to the directions.  Cool and pour over the crumb mixture in the pie shell.  Mix 1 package of Dream Whip and pour on top of the pudding.  Sprinkle with rest of crumb mixture and garnish the top with a cherry.  Chill the pie in the refrigerator until served.

The Man Behind Isaac Asimov’s Psychohistory in The Foundation Series

David McClelland was an American behavioral and social psychologist who developed the Motivational Needs Theory during the latter half of the 20th century.  He was also involved in quantitative history, a field of research referred to as psychohistory and popularized by Isaac Asimov’s Foundation series.  McClelland believed that, using vast amounts of economic and demographic data across various civilizations, one could determine specific behavior patterns pertaining to the growth and decline of society.  These scientific patterns could then be used to predict the future.

McClelland attained his Master’s from the University of Missouri.  He later attended Yale and spent over 30 years teaching at Harvard University.  The following list reflects a few of his published works regarding Motivational Needs Theory:

The Achievement Motive (1953)

The Achieving Society (1961)

Power Is The Great Motivator (1976)

Human Motivation (1987)

Overview of Motivational Needs Theory

There are two types of theories related to motivation:  process and content.  Content theories focus on what motivates an individual.  David McClelland’s Motivational Needs Theory is a content theory focused on three main identifier needs that drive work performance.  All goals and objectives are established through these needs:  Affiliation, Power, and Achievement.

Affiliation is the need for interpersonal relationships and loyalty to others.  Power is the need to control others.  Achievement is the need to overcome obstacles and accomplish goals.  Achievement is characterized by a need for feedback and some risk.

Of the three, McClelland praised individuals that exhibited a higher level of Achievement need.  He believed that the degree of societal economic growth is positively related to the degree of individual achievers in that society.  Put simply, the greater number of entrepreneurs and inventors a society holds, the greater its wealth.

McClelland derived these three needs from the work of Murray’s Theory of Psychogenic Needs from 1938.  McClelland’s theory was also influenced by the Hawthorne Studies conducted in the 1920s by Elton Mayo at Western Electric Company in Chicago.

Researchers discovered through a series of observations of 6 female employees under various altered work conditions, that peer group observation improved their performance.  This proved to McClelland that humans are motivated by more than financial incentives, unlike popular economic theory of that time period.

To determine what type of motivational need a person has, McClelland would administer the TAT. This was a series of photographs related to a story that were given to a subject along with a set of questions. The subject’s immediate answers to these questions would determine his or her motivational need: affiliation, achievement, or power.

One very significant study done in psychohistory is the following one shown below. This study proved a positive correlation between generations of children who were read books that focused on achievement and later industrialization of their country and the advancement of entrepreneurial and invention-type progress.

Laughter and Peace

The 21st of September is International Day of Peace.  It is a day to get along, to peacefully co-exist despite our differences.  And how best can we humans do that?

The answer is obvious.

By reposting hilarious videos of silly animals.

Nice Article

I drove over to Parsons today to pick up a copy of their newspaper, The Parsons Sun. Colleen Williamson wrote a really nice article about Searching for Fire. I’m really happy with it.

In other news, I was invited to talk with a local junior high English class about working with a publishing company and the process of writing to book launch. I’m really looking forward to that day and am starting to prepare for it.

Hidden Waterfalls

These are the Bourbon County Waterfalls, a little known secret location in central Kansas. They are way off the beaten path and quite beautiful. We went exploring last weekend in the Kawasaki Mule and finally found the waterfall as well as 4 deer, 2 raccoons, 1 bat, and 2 rattlesnakes along the way. Fun adventures out in the country that I thought I’d share with you here.

Book Reviews

Searching for Fire is my first book I wrote. Sometimes I feel like quite the rookie trying to navigate all the ins and outs of the publishing world. There are a few things I learned that I wished I knew before starting the process.

One thing to consider is the importance of professional reviews. You must have professional reviews to even be considered for most physical bookstores or libraries. In addition, I was not aware until this week that several professional review companies require you to submit your manuscript prior to publication for a review. Dang….missed that. The good news is that there are other professional review opportunities and I’ll list them briefly here:

Clarion and BlueInk offer a 2-for-1 review package at $695.

Kirkus offers a review as well at $425.

Midwest Book Review will set you up with a reviewer. You email Midwest Book Review and they send you the reviewer name. You send 2 copies of the book to the reviewer and the fee is about $50.

The Washington Post says that they do book reviews as well. Just mail them a copy of the book with a cover letter.

Bookreporter.com also does book reviews and requires a copy of the book and a cover letter as well.

I also spoke to my sister who works at a library and she recommended The Library Journal but you must submit your manuscript for this one prior to publication unless your book falls into a short list of book types such as a graphic novel.

One other unique area to consider submitting a book for review………..this one was suggested to me again by my sister at the library………….send a letter and book copy to O magazine or even Reese Witherspoon’s new book club, Hello Sunshine. These websites are hugely successful and a good recommendation from either one would be a major boost to any author’s aspirations.